Rugby fans on internationals at the Aviva: ‘A pub with a match on in the background’

From alcohol bans at seats to much ado about nothing, readers give their opinion on the Dublin stadium’s matchday experience

Last Monday, the IRFU revealed the findings of a survey it carried out after recent complaints surrounding the match day experience at the Aviva Stadium. Many fans have blamed the consumption of alcohol for what has widely been labelled as a declining atmosphere for Ireland internationals.

Despite this, the governing body’s results say that 68 per cent of people would not support a ban on alcohol being taken to seats during matches. Only 25 per cent of people felt getting up and coming back with drinks during the game greatly diminished their experience of the game, according to the survey.

Some 744 supporters over the age of 18 were contacted by the survey’s practitioners. The IRFU has promised that measures will be in place to improve the fan experience in advance of home Six Nations clashes with France (February 11th) and England (March 18th).

We asked Irish Times readers to share their experiences of attending rugby internationals at the Aviva Stadium. Below is a selection of their responses.


Reader comments

At the Australia match I counted 18 times standing up to let someone in or out of my row. It beggars belief that people can’t go 40 minutes (closer to 50 these days I suppose) without getting a drink or going to the toilet. If you must be pouring beer, have roaming sellers so people don’t need to leave their seats. Thomas Ralph, Cork

I attended all three Autumn internationals in 2022 and generally attend one Six Nations game a year but am not enthusiastic about attending Ireland matches any more due to the atmosphere at the Aviva. At both the Australia and South Africa matches, which were close throughout, there was very little vocal support or cheering from anyone in our section and it felt like most people around us were there for a social gathering rather than supporting the best, and most exciting, Ireland team we have had in 30 years.

My father, who been attending rugby matches for 60 years, was taken aback by the borderline apathy of those in our vicinity and we were often lone voices encouraging when Ireland had a small win like a turnover or scrum penalty. Our experience is only a small sample size of a stadium of 50,000 people but I have had similar experiences at Six Nations games in recent years.

The only suggestion I could provide to improve the status quo would be to have a block of a couple of thousand cheaper tickets designated for schoolboys and girls to try to replicate the schoolboy stand noise in the old Lansdowne Road. Younger people are noisier than their elders and also would help grow the sport to the next generation who are currently reliant of their parents forking out €100 a ticket which is not feasible for a large proportion of young families. – Emmet O’Keefe, Dublin

There are far too many day trippers at games, who are there for the occasion rather than the sporting contest. It’s become a culture of groups attending games and part of this is consuming alcohol. It’s continuous throughout and people expect the party to continue for the duration. There are plenty of fans who cannot afford the tickets that would be glued to the action, so it’s tough to see people only half engaged with the game. – Peter Kelly, Meath

On several occasions, in the premium section, I have left my seat early in order to get a place in the bar queue, upsetting others in the process. This is because the service is often so bad that the match has restarted before I’ve been served, so I’m also the person arriving late with drinks, often to the disapproval of others.

What a dismal choice for me as premium ticket holder, and also for the people I disrupt. God knows I pay enough for the seat, and yet I can’t comfortably be served in the intermission like any other venue. Remember that not everyone is going to the bar, some people may have urgent use of the toilets. Such people should not be vilified but rather accommodated through a well communicated and acceptable process of leaving at times of stoppages. – Declan Farrell, Dublin

We want to a Nov[ember] match a few years ago against Australia, great match, but majority of fans just treat it as a drinking session. Think nothing of leaving seats several times during game, spilling drink on you, coming back to seats and quite intimidating if you say anything. Bar should be closed during game and no one selling drinks at seats. – Wendy Clarke, Dublin

I find the quality of service at the food and drinks stands very poor, they can’t seem to deal with the surge in demand at half time and often run out of coffee and hot food. Most of the staff seem to have little or no experience and they seem to be unfamiliar with their duties. Perhaps if the quality of service at the food and drink stalls was improved people would be happier to wait until half-time to get a drink. – Anthony Doolan, Westmeath

Loud, alcohol-fuelled conversations continuing while goal kicks in progress. Constantly standing up to allow “fans” to top-up or jettison liquid. Suggestion: close the bars 15 mins before kickoff. Keep [them] closed at half-time. Open after match is over. Prediction: won’t happen, as alcohol revenue will not be forgone. – Tony Field, Kildare

It’s irritating and tedious for two reasons. Firstly, the stories about having to stand up 8-10 times per half to let people pass by to get drinks is not in any way exaggerated. Secondly, allowing people to get pints encourages them to treat it as a pub to have a chat in with their mates rather than as somewhere to enjoy the shared experience of watching a rugby match. I’m by no means a rugby purist and usually choose a pub and a pint to watch a match over the Aviva, but ironically that’s usually a better and more invested crowd than I’ve found in the Aviva. – Kevin Hamilton, Dublin

The effects of this issue on my own experiences at the Aviva have ranged from negligible to mildly irritating but it’s never been so bad that it would put me off going to see a game. If I arrive in good time I’ll often bring a pint of beer to my seat but I don’t go to the bar during the game and the queues at half time would likely mean missing some of the 2nd half.

With some games often going on for 100+ minutes due to stoppages, it’s not really surprising people slip out. If closing the bars during each half might mean a better experience we certainly shouldn’t be throwing our toys out of the pram merely at the suggestion, but there’s other factors at play too. It’s a complex issue to address as the piped in music during breaks in play showed, I thought that was more irritating than standing for trays of beer. – Kevin McCarthy, Dublin

Too much music that is much too loud. It is an assault on the senses, and takes away the voice of the crowd

[The] atmosphere can be very quiet and dull at bigger games, I get the impression this is because there is a larger corporate hospitality interest in the games, resulting in a larger portion of the crowd not being particularly interested in the game and more interested in drinking and socialising. Cheaper tickets and banning bringing drinks to seats during playing time would likely improve the atmosphere at the games. – Robbie Payne, Dublin

An isolated incident at a match I was at recently involved a young gentlemen buying trays of drink all match for him and his family. The constant standing up and obstruction of view was already annoying as it was, seeing as he was in the row in front of us and couldn’t even wait for a stop in play, but midway through the second half we realised that he’d urinated on himself.

It was only after he next went out to get another tray and proceeded to spill that one on others seated that the steward confiscated the drink from him and [he] was told to remain seated from there. As a French fan recently described the Aviva to me, it’s not a rugby fortress, it’s a pub with a match on in the background. Great legacy by the IRFU. – Bill, Dublin

It was like a cross between a small circus and a children’s disco. Re the alcohol, you spend your money to see a match so why waste time and money to buy pints? Let the rugby followers go to the Aviva let the rest go to Slane Castle. – James Riordan, Kerry

The IRFU survey results surprise me. It would be interesting to know the respondent selection criteria. I find the continual disturbance, the spilling of drinks etc has considerably reduced the enjoyment of a game at the Aviva. The contrast with Croke Park or with the rugby stadiums I have been to in France and Italy reflects unfavourably on the IRFU. – Ciaran Tuite, Dublin

Too much music that is much too loud. It is an assault on the senses, and takes away the voice of the crowd. – John O’Regan, Dublin

Only been once, but a pint in an Aviva container was a must. Will definitely be back for a Six Nations game. The flags are a great touch. Loved the game. Loved the venue. – Michael Quinn, Belfast

With tickets prices so high it’s not a good experience any more. I’ve attended Six Nations matches since 1967 and last year was the worst I’ve ever known. I had to stand up at least 20 times during the games. I did not enjoy it one bit. I have just shelled out €750 for France/England matches and I expect the powers that be to look after its patrons. – Veronica Donohoe, Dublin